Graphic design touches almost every element of our lives. Whether it’s in the easily recognizable logos and corporate facades employed by both local businesses and global enterprises, the captivating marketing strategies and product packaging that entice us to buy, or the visually engaging information disseminated through print and broadcast media, the creative touch of a graphic designer is an ever-present force. So, if you’re wondering, “What can you do with a graphic design degree?,” the answer is “plenty.”
As the Assistant Chair and an Associate Professor of Design at Troy University, Chris Stagl has a straightforward philosophy about graphic design.
“Good graphic design is really just about visual communication and storytelling,” says Stagl, who teaches courses for the graphic design bachelor’s degree at TROY. “To be a great designer, you’ve got to be someone who wants to tell an interesting visual story and communicate effectively with the viewer.”
Many people have an interest in — or a knack for — visual communications. To work in the field, though, it also helps to have a degree in graphic design.
Is a Graphic Design Degree Worth It?
Stagl wasn’t thinking about graphic design as a career when he went off to college. After serving on his newspaper and yearbook staff in high school, he planned to study journalism. “I switched to graphic design because I really enjoyed the visual storytelling aspect of working in print media,” says Stagl, who earned his B.F.A. from the University of North Florida and his M.F.A. from Florida Atlantic University. He wants prospective students to know you don’t have to be a gifted artist to become a successful graphic designer.
“I’ll go to the grave believing that you don’t have to be Picasso with a pencil to be a good graphic designer,” says Stagl. “That’s because I don’t consider myself a great artist in the traditional sense. It’s more about having the ability to listen to the client, quickly rendering and sketching their ideas, and then translating those ideas into a finished, digital, comprehensive product.”
While Stagl still has a passion for newspaper and magazine design, his love of the industry has also moved with the times to reflect the ever-evolving world of design.
“I do love typography,” says Stagl. “I teach typography every semester, and it’s always very rewarding. That said, I go through peaks and valleys of what I’m really interested in. For the past year, I’ve been working on some video projects that have been very appealing because they are people-centric narrative documentaries. But at the end of the day, I really do love good page layout, smart logo design and simple color pallets. These are the fundamentals of graphic design, and I try not to lose focus of that.”
A Love For The Creative Industries
As a graduate of TROY’s bachelor’s degree in graphic design, Cole Patterson valued the program’s broad scope.
“TROY taught me to swing wide and have a strong foundation in many different skill sets,” says Patterson. “While my specialties are in video, photo, and motion graphics, I also have a strong foundational knowledge of many other types of design to bolster those main skills and build upon should I ever need them in my career.”
Patterson now works as an editor at a creative agency specializing in brand identity, graphics, exhibits, websites, marketing, sound, motion, and ﬁlm.
“My job exists in two parts,” says Patterson. “Production and postproduction. On production days, my job will range from scouting locations and shooting B-roll to helping on a larger set as a grip, setting up, and providing equipment as needed. On postproduction days, my job consists of organizing footage for edits and editing social posts and interviews.”
TROY’s graphic design program gave Cole a genuine appreciation for the creative industries.
“I love media that feels like it’s been made with love,” says Patterson. “That can take any form from movies to book design, the gaming industry, billboard design, to a really weird way of taking a photo. I love this field because it allows me to better see people’s passion for all these projects and learn from them.”
The Evolution of Graphic Design
According to Stagl, the most significant changes in the graphic design industry in recent years have been in interactive video and motion graphics.
“Motion graphics are one of those things that can live anywhere. They can live on your phone, computer, a tablet, or the television. You can’t watch anything on television without seeing the work of somebody who’s done some type of motion graphics. If you switch on ESPN, CNN or any live broadcast, every breaking news story will be supported with a million and one pieces of motion graphics.”
Stagl explains that rolling news networks demand a constant supply of fresh design content.
“They have people on standby who are ready to put in a new graphic at any given time,” says Stagl. “It might be something as simple as updating typography on the ticker. Or it could be something as elaborate as an entire campaign for a political candidate running for office. In many ways, motion graphics designers are the unsung heroes of TV.”
Motion graphics also play a crucial role in the way consumers buy products and services.
“Huge organizations like Amazon and Walmart all rely on design and motion graphics to encourage people to buy more,” says Stagl. “It’s a big part of today’s society.”
What Jobs Can You Get with a Graphic Design Degree?
While some graphic designers will be drawn toward the bright lights of major media brands and technology companies, many others will discover equally rewarding work with small, local firms and companies. As such, Stagl promotes the value of a blue-collar work ethic to students.
“The majority of graphic designers won’t be working on projects for Coca-Cola or Nike,” says Stagl. “They’ll be working with people in their local neighborhood, helping them to create a new brand image or perhaps design a website that will function as a marketing tool within their region or community.”
But this doesn’t mean the process is any less creative.
“At TROY, we offer this cool blend of what it means to be a blue-collar designer and a creative thinker,” says Stagl. “We have such a unique faculty at TROY. We really do treat the students like artists. But we also try to keep their feet on the ground by presenting them with projects that will help them transition into the industry.”
That involves inviting students to work on projects for local businesses and organizations while they’re pursuing their graphic design bachelor’s degree. For example, some of Stagl’s students are working on projects for a local clothing brand developing a brand identity that will be used in marketing materials, including brochures, flyers, and more while others are working with producers from Hollywood helping develop pitch decks for networks like netflix and HBO.
Still Wondering, “Is a Graphic Design Degree Worth It?”
A graphic design bachelor’s degree is absolutely worth it, Stagl says. Graphic designers are in demand in every industry — and with the theoretical design skills and real-world work experience they receive, TROY graduates are highly marketable and ready to step in and fill these positions.
“We find that many students already have full-time jobs with great salaries and benefits locked in long before they have even graduated,” says Stagl. “Others will have job offers within a few weeks of completing the program. That’s a really good sign of the health of the program and the industry.”
Beyond digital design, like motion graphics, video and websites, designers are still needed for book covers, brochures and other printed materials.
“And remember, a digital book still needs a cover design,” he adds.
Beyond what jobs you can get with a graphic design degree, you might also wonder what salary you can expect. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median salary in 2021 for graphic designers was $50,710.
The BLS data shows that the employment outlook for graphic designers will see a projected growth of 3% through 2031 with 24,800 job openings projected each year. Like in other industries, many of these opportunities are due to the retirement of aging workers.
Develop Your Freelance Hustle with a Graphic Design Bachelor’s Degree
According to Stagl, not all students pursuing their graphic design bachelor’s degree at TROY are looking for traditional full-time employment. Instead, they want to develop their careers as freelance graphic designers or open their own design agency. For these students, it’s equally important to expand their business acumen and design skills.
“It’s all about the hustle,” says Stagl. “We teach classes that help students understand what their time and creativity is worth. We teach them how to manage their clients, how to prepare for dealing with business taxes, and what it means to run an LLC. We teach classes and run workshops on how to develop those business skills.”
As potential entrepreneurs, students in the program are encouraged to develop their “soft skills” and focus on building professional relationships. According to Patterson, TROY’s faculty went out of their way to lead by example.
“Every professor in my program went out of their way to ensure students had access to resources and opportunities that would bolster their skillsets,” says Patterson. “The classes were personable, and questions were met with answers always. By the time I left Troy, I knew the bulk of my professors very well because of the degree that they invested their efforts in students.”
What Role Does Artificial Intelligence Play in TROY’s Graphic Design Bachelor’s Degree?
When considering what you can do with a graphic design degree, it’s important to contemplate how the industry will change in the coming years — specifically the role of artificial intelligence (AI). Like many other industries, AI is disrupting graphic design.
“AI tools like Midjourney and Dall-E are evolving to the point where anyone might be able to create images for use in their graphics projects,” says Stagl. “Although the technology is impressive, it can still render some bizarre images at times. It’s also important to remember that AI tools will never have an original idea and just copy and adapt existing design concepts.”
AI also has the ability to help graphic designers automate repetitive tasks such as generating layouts, selecting color palettes, and retouching images, potentially freeing designers to focus on other aspects such as concept development.
Rather than ignoring the threat, Stagl says TROY is helping designers embrace this new reality and leverage AI to augment their abilities.
“At TROY, we know that we cannot shy away from AI,” says Stagl. “We’ve got to use it because we know that our students are going to use it. So rather than look at it and just say, ‘No, it’s not good.’ We’re looking at AI from a much more strategic vantage point.”
Stagl highlights the importance of developing creative thinking skills in the age of AI.
“The truly creative people aren’t going to be replaced by AI. They are going to pivot toward using these tools effectively as a part of their overall bag of tricks.”
Stagl believes that AI technology can make graphic designers better at their job when used correctly. “They can use it as a research tool to help elevate their design skills to the next level. We want them to leverage these tools for research and ideation. But we still want them to create based on their own ideas. That will take a lot of work on our part to ensure that we’re governing that correctly.”
AI, he adds, isn’t the first technology to disrupt graphic design. From printing presses to photography to computers, graphic designers have had to adapt again and again to innovations. For example, when video cameras became readily available, Stagl says it took time before they were used effectively to tell “unique, funny, original, heartfelt stories versus just saying, ‘Look what I can do with a camera because it’s available to me.’ I think we’ll see a similar pattern with AI.”
Learn More about the Graphic Design Bachelor’s Degree at TROY
According to Patterson, the most important things TROY will give you as a graphic designer in training are structure and direction.
“The internet is a wonderful resource with a hoard of knowledge, but that much information is impossible to fully consume without genuine mentorship and direction,” says Patterson. “Troy’s design classes are designed to teach you through making, and you’ll always be making. That is the most effective and enjoyable way to learn design.”
What can you do with a graphic design degree? Explore the TROY graphic design bachelor’s degree to learn more about what you can do in this innovative and creative field.